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William Blake is considered one of the leading lights of the Romantic movement of the late 18th century.
However, he was older when the movement first began which leads us to surmise that he may, indeed, have been an inspiration for and therefore a founder of the movement.
Predominately a watercolourist, he left a remarkable collection of more than 260 paintings on his death in 1827. While many of his works remain in private collection, there is often opportunity to view exhibits in galleries around the world, most notably the Tate Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
By the age of 14, William left the academy and began a seven-year apprenticeship as an engraver with James Basire. Basire's business almost entirely consisted of creating illustrations of antiquaries which of course, suited Blake's established passions and the young man did very well. He was to use his skills at his trade to provide for himself and his family his whole life.
Blake believed that while Reynolds professed to support artistic expression he did, in fact, supress it by insisting that creativity was a general term, while William believed it to be definite and exact. He believed that an artist must give his all to ahis craft, there could be no half-measures.
However, Williams work was also informed by the social and political environment of the day. Most especially in his choice of subject matter and his sympathetic opinions which were readily expressed in his work. Blake was a passionate abolitionist and created many disturbing images involving slavery in the hope that they may shock the general public form their complacency. In his graphic, A N*gro Hung Alive for example, there can be no doubt of the artist's view on the horrors of the slave trade.
Perhaps more than any other influence, it was William's own mindscape that produced some of his most exquisite works. From a very young age, Blake regularly had visions of a religious and supernatural nature. These apparitions brought his messages and insights which he then translated into his artwork, ultimately creating a whole world of fantasy creatures. These beings dominated his paintings, particularly those attached to his prophetic books as in, The Book of Thel and The Book of Los.
His paintings were created as illustrations for his books of poetry using his unique etching technique and thus presented as beautiful illuminated manuscripts. Other romantic painters instead used medieval folklore as their subject matter, something that Blake never did. Blake's work was largely dismissed, in his lifetime, as nonsense or at worst lunacy. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that he ad much effect or influence on his contemporaries and their style. However, only twenty years after his death, critics were already re-examining his body of work and declaring it genius.
It is reasonable to assume then that the later romantic artists could indeed have been inspired by Williams fantastical and free ranging work. What is certainly beyond doubt is that his use of colour and form was a jumping of point for the Pre-Raphaelites (Waterhouse, Burne Jones and Millais) to come.
Most Famous Works
This image absolutely encapsulates the contents of the book which highlights the duality of existence; the innocence of youth which is slowly and completely corrupted by life and experience. William's use of bold colours was a complete departure from the style of the day and is now considered one of the most iconic elements of his painting in general. While the cover of the book is perhaps the best known, the entire book contains some of Blake's most vivid work. There are only a small number of the books in existence, three of which are owned by The British Museum.
The most remarkable aspect of the painting's construction is the luminous use of colour which emanates from the canvas and conveys the truly celestial scene of the imminent presence of God. Although William was not a devoutly religious person, he had a huge amount of respect for the bible as a text believing it to be a source of infinite creative inspiration and he had a very spiritual view of life. This painting can be found today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This work is one of over one hundred illustrations created at the behest of Butts, and it is quite something to behold. The body of the creature is magnificent and beautiful while at the same time terrifying, and the whole subject is bathed in the light of God, signifying that it is, in fact, His will that has brought the world to this point. Blake created a number of Red Dragon paintings and they have become so much a part of artistic vernacular, that they inspired the books and subsequent movies by Thomas Harris; The Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Thus, cementing the artist's work in our culture even more deeply.
It has been documented by scholars that the angels as they are shown were actually the same angels that had come to William in many of his visions. In a further departure from traditional composition, he has painted the angels as described in the old testament rather than the new showing his irreverence and reinforcing his view that the bible was only a suggestion to encourage the artist's imagination. Although t he painting is, in fact, full of colour, Blakes masterful use of tone and blending creates an almost monochromatic hue, magnifying the spiritual quality of the scene. This glorious example of Blake's genius can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
William Blake's Artistic Legacy
This succinct description is perfectly express for a man how was a way-shower and has proved a guiding light to creatives of all mediums, most especially visual artists. Many believe that Blake's influence on his artistic descendants led not only to future romanticism, but neo-romanticism, modernism and post modernism, surrealism and even todays graphic novels and modern motion picture. He has been described as one of the most influential artists of any age and his work continues to inspire today.